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    Fostering Critical Literacy Through Popular Culture in English Language Arts

    By Kathleen Colantonio-Yurko
     | Jun 29, 2017

    Critical LiteracyWhen I want to relax after a long day of teaching, I often choose to watch a television show. With my “teacher eyes,” I frequently end up thinking about how the show flashing across my screen might relate to the content of an English language arts class.

    For example, when watching an episode of Black-ish, I wonder how the show’s underlying commentary on race in America might help students understand a complex social issue related to an assigned text. I ask myself, How can this television show foster critical thought? What questions can I ask my students to help them develop their critical literacy skills?

    As a teacher educator, I wonder how I can help current and future teachers address these questions in their own practice. 

    In my experience as a high school English language arts teacher, my courses generally focused on one core text—a piece of fiction that I used as the foundation of a unit. However, I did my best to incorporate popular culture artifacts that were tied to central themes, conflicts, or ideas within the core text. I wanted my students to see the connections between their fictional text and the world in which we live. Moreover, I wanted students to grow into critical beings who questioned the world around them.

    Teachers can integrate popular culture into their class curriculum as an avenue for students to explore themes from their assigned fictional readings. Increasingly, more popular culture artifacts address sociopolitical issues in a variety of mediums. For example, Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat offer rich storylines that openly address critical issues such as race, class, immigration, and gender.

    Students’ understanding of sociopolitical issues can be deepened by connecting the issues to current events. Teachers can think of the core text as a starting place. Perhaps the teacher then connects a theme from the core text to a popular culture television show. However, students’ emerging understanding can be extended.

    How can this be accomplished? The news is a good place to start. News events and political movements offer rich opportunities for students to critically examine dominant narratives in our society. Additionally, popular culture artifacts allow teachers to meet the needs of mandated initiatives that require nonfiction readings be included in class curriculum. Teachers can integrate nonfiction into their course by pairing texts with news articles that address themes and topics from a selected episode.

    Popular cultural artifacts can bring complex issues to life. After all, the more perspectives students are offered, the more nuanced their understandings become. Consider the ways in which you might integrate popular culture artifacts with contemporary issues in your own courses.

    Kate YurkoKathleen Colantonio-Yurko is currently an assistant professor of literacy at The College at Brockport, State University of New York.

    Kathleen Colantonio-Yurko will present multiple sessions including “All TV Shows Are Political?!: Fostering Critical Literacy Through Popular Culture in English Language Arts” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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    Finding Meaning in Literacy Learning for Second and Foreign Language Learners

    By Yueh-Nu Hung
     | Jun 27, 2017

    Finding Meaning in Literacy LearningIn Taiwan, there is a great demand for effective strategies to teach English literacy skills. English textbooks used in elementary schools contain mostly short dialogues, and vocabulary and sentence exercises are usually controlled and graded linearly. These materials often don’t deliver meaningful, interesting, and effective literacy learning experiences.

    In 2013, I worked with a group of elementary school English teachers to develop theme-based English reading and writing lessons to partially replace textbooks. Each theme consisted of children’s books of various genres, poetry, songs, or videos. We chose topics that were interesting and relevant to students’ lives, such as dentist visits, pet care, traveling, and cooking.

    Reading materials were selected based on a few criteria: First, they had to be interesting and connect to students’ life experiences. Next, they had to be authentic materials that were not modified for the purpose of language teaching. Last, the language needed to be appropriate and not-too-challenging.

    Writing is usually the aspect of language learning that second and foreign language learners find most frustrating. In our theme-based, meaning-focused teaching, we made sure that writing activities always came as a natural extension of reading activities. Students always wrote to express personal meaning. In the writing activities we designed, there was never a “correct answer.” Unlike writing activities recommended by textbooks, we never asked students to write copy or practice patterns. High achieving students were free to share what they wanted to say, and low achieving students practiced guided writing such as fill-in-the-blank prompts or sentence completion supported with word banks.

    We were very curious about the effectiveness of this theme-based and meaning-based literacy teaching endeavor, so we conducted quasi-experimental research and invited another school of a similar size and parent socioeconomic status background in the same city to be the control group. Students from both schools received English reading and writing proficiency pre- and post-test. It was a delight to see that our students performed significantly better after receiving only one semester (four months) of this theme- and meaning-based literacy instruction. Interviews with students also revealed that they preferred the experimental instruction and wanted it to continue.

    We put meaning and student interest at the forefront of what we chose and organized for students to read and to write. All educational and learning theories say that meaning and student motivation is important. What we learned is that while all English teaching theories and classroom research are important, the “meaning first” truth goes a long way. When meaning and student interests become the priority, everything else comes naturally in helping students to learn a new language.

    Yueh-Nu HungYueh-Nu Hung is an associate professor in the Department of English at the National Taichung University of Education in Taiwan. She is the director of the Center for Research on Elementary English Teaching, a project funded by the Ministry of Education of Taiwan that works on preservice and inservice elementary school English teacher training.

    Yueh-Nu Hung will present a session titled “Finding Meaning in Literacy Learning: Classroom Strategies in Second and Foreign Language Literacy Instruction” at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.

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    10 Tips for Reducing the Summer Reading Slide

    By: Evan Ortlieb
     | Jun 20, 2017

    Summer SlideGetting students to read during the summer months can be a challenge. Our aim should not be to force them to read; it should be to develop their motivation to read. Voracious readers are almost always the highest performing achievers in school. Reading, like any other hobby, must be a year-round activity for optimal academic development and eventual career success. A number of strategies can be used to capitalize on students’ existing attitudes and interests and to promote summer reading:

    • Read together: Whether first-grade or 12th-grade, stop telling and start sharing literary experiences. Don’t feel bound to the child’s reading level, as listening comprehension is typically much higher in early years.
    • Encourage children to read what interests themfrom comic books to blogs and even drama: While wide reading is the goal, no one likes to read everything. Check out ILA’s Choices Reading Lists for book recommendations for children by children.
    • Consider their interests: For example, if the child is a sports enthusiast, suggest adventure, history, mystery, or other genres with an essence of action and competition.
    • Read challenging books: Often, children can understand books above their comprehension level if the material relates to their prior knowledge or experiences. Besides, with help, what challenge can’t be met?
    • Share your enthusiasm for reading: In general, we speak about what matters most to us. Talk to students about the books you read to inspire habitual reading (e.g., It was so inspirational to see how Chelsea left everything behind for a chance to perform on Broadway. I wish I had that confidence when I was 18 years old).
    • Link technology to reading: Apps and websites offer freely available e-books, words of the day, historical significant events on this day, and visual dictionaries.
    • Find an online community: More than eight million stories have been uploaded to FanFiction for reading, reviewing, and interacting with child and adolescent authors.
    • Engage in the arts: Music, art, and drama bring what we read to life.
    • Incentivize with learning opportunities: Read a book and go to a museum, read two books and go to a theatre production, and so on.
    • Subscribe to freely available e-newsletters written for children/adolescents: (e.g., Teen Ink and Clover).

    Evan OrtliebEvan Ortlieb is a professor and coordinator of the Online PhD in Literacy in the Department of Education Specialties at St. John’s University in New York City. He is an internationally recognized leader in the field of literacy education with previous work experience in Singapore and Australia and whose expertise centers on literacy empowerment, literacy teacher preparation, language diversity, and differentiated literacy instruction. He currently serves as president of the Specialized Literacy Professionals (SIG) of the International Literacy Association, and section editor of Unlocking Literacy Learning within the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. He also serves as president of the Ortlieb Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides college scholarships for cancer patients.

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    Finding Scripts for Readers Theatre

    By Chase Young, Timothy Rasinski, and Faida Stokes
     | Jun 15, 2017

    Readers TheatreTeachers who want to make Readers Theatre a more regular part of their reading curriculum often ask us where to find scripts for their students to perform. Although school and community libraries, as well as most classrooms, are filled with stories, informational texts, and reading materials, individual and collections of scripts are not as easy to find—especially if a teacher has a particular topic or concept in mind. In this post, we hope to help teachers become more adept at finding the kinds of scripts they want to bring into their classrooms.

    The following are five suggestions for finding scripts or creating your own.

    • Search published collections. The first place to look for scripts is where you already look for books and other reading materials: in your classroom, school, and community libraries. Although limited in numbers and scope, most children’s librarians will stock their shelves with at least a few scripts that can be practiced and performed in a classroom setting.
    • Check the Internet. The Internet has a vast repository of scripts that can be easily downloaded and copied for classroom use. Many of the scripts you will find online are actually written by teachers who upload them for public use. A Google search yields a host of free sites (such as timrasinski.com and thebestclass.org) that offer a variety of scripts for free download.
    • Write your own scripts. This might be a great time to tap into your writing potential, shake off your writer’s block, or enhance your amateur writing career. You can transform almost any text into a script. After choosing a text, consider how to approach the scripting process. Some texts have plenty of dialogue while others are heavily narrated, in which case you can add several narrator parts or change narration into dialogue. For instance, if the text reads, “Superman flew faster than ever to save Lois,” you could modify it so that Superman’s dialogue tells the story, “Oh no! I have to fly faster than ever to save Lois!”

    Creating your own scripts also enables you to cater to your students. For example, fifth-grade teachers might script a short section from a novel. If you have a class of emergent readers, a narrated or teacher-led script might be a more suitable starter script for your classroom. Or, you can make one up.

    • Use poetry. We have also found that students love to perform poetry. You can choose any poem and easily transform it into a script by adding narrators. A great source for funny, child-friendly poems is gigglepoetry.com.
    • Have students write the scripts. We feel that students themselves are the ultimate source for scripts. When students write scripts based on stories or segments of stories they have read, they must engage in deep comprehension and analysis. Making inferences is one of the highest forms of comprehension. When turning a story into a script, students learn how to create inferences through dialogue and description. Students can also create nonfiction or informational scripts. When doing so, they will have to perform research to ensure that the information they convey in the script is accurate.

    We recommend that you start by scripting existing texts. Poetry is an easy genre to begin with; there’s very little dialogue, so students are essentially breaking the poems into meaningful phrases or stanzas and assigning narrators. In our experience, short stories are a good next step.

    There are no limits on what texts can be used, so let your students choose their favorite texts and let their imaginations take over. We hope that this brief article provides you with enough resources to implement Readers Theatre throughout the year so you can see the results for yourself. 

    Chase YoungChase Young is an associate professor at Sam Houston State University and a former elementary school teacher. He is the coauthor with Timothy Rasinski of Tiered Fluency Instruction: Supporting Diverse Learners in Grades 2–5 (Capstone).

    Tim RasinskiTimothy Rasinski is a professor of literacy education at Kent State University and a former elementary and middle school teacher. He is the author of the bestselling book The Fluent Reader (Scholastic) and a member of the Reading Hall of Fame.

    Faida StokesFaida Stokes is a doctoral student in literacy at Sam Houston State University. Formerly a special education teacher, she is now an educational diagnostician. She is the coauthor with Chase Young and Timothy Rasinski of Readers Theater Plus Comprehension and Word Study to appear in The Reading Teacher. 

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    Helping Your Students Become Global Citizens

    By Clare Maloney
     | Jun 15, 2017

    Global CitizensTo help students grow into informed, socially aware global citizens, we must allow them to explore the different languages, traditions, and history behind cultures around the world through multicultural literature. We must also encourage students to think critically about leading social and political issues and connect them to resources that will give them better insight into these global concerns.

    Read about how you can do all of these things, ultimately guiding your students to have a better understanding of the world around them.

    Clare Maloney is a former intern at the International Literacy Association. She is currently seeking a BA in English from the University of Delaware

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